Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist
from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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Italy rejoice on a dismal night in Berlin
It was fitting in the end that the final, decisive act of this World Cup should come from a defender. Fabio Grosso has had a wonderful tournament with his crucially won penalty against Australia and goal against Germany, but ultimately he is a destroyer, not a creator. This World Cup more than any other will I think be remembered more for defending than attacking. The likes of Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Thuram, Carvalho, Puyol, Marquez and Ferdinand have had excellent tournaments and the superstar attacking players, the likes of Ronaldinho, Rooney, Henry and Adriano have been a huge disappointment.
The two teams in the final made it by virtue of two miserly back lines with a couple of excellent holding midfield players sat in front of them. There was just about enough of a spark in front of them to create the few chances necessary to win a match. France can consider themselves lucky that Zidane lifted himself from his slumber against Spain, Brazil and Portugal to propel his team into the final.
Zizou, what were you thinking? He started the game with an outrageous touch of class, chipping in a penalty (just) after Malouda was brought down and becoming only the fourth man to score in two World Cup finals. For the rest of the match he was probably the liveliest player on either team in attack, although this was only in the very briefest of flashes in a match devoid of quality forward play. Then in extra time came the dramatic conclusion of his career, sent off for an inexplicable head butt on Materazzi. What was said between the two we donít know, but there is no possible justification. As it turns out it did not really affect the outcome of a game always likely to go to penalties from the second half onwards, but what an ignominious way to finish such a great career.
The Italian equaliser came from a straightforward corner headed in by Materazzi and it was only from set pieces that they looked a genuine threat. With two goals inside twenty minutes people around the world may have been rubbing their hands in anticipation of a potential classic but nerves and fear soon took over, with caution winning out over ambition. The remaining one hundred minutes were tense but mostly tedious, with nothing to wash away the bad memories of the knockout stages of this World Cup which have been so lacking in entertainment. Results are paramount for the players and the coaches but if this is the future of the World Cup then they are tearing the soul out of the competition.
It ended in high drama though - at least a penalty shoot-out guarantees you that and at least we saw quality here. Every single penalty was well taken and the only crime David Trezeguet committed was to be one inch out on his calculations. I hope this serves as an object lesson to any English coaches or players watching that the shoot-out is not some uncontrollable lottery. The Italians have clearly learnt from their mistakes and I have always maintained that if you drill it with power into one of the bottom corners or have the guts to lift a high powerful shot into the roof of the net then you will be successful more often than not. The tame side-footer barely a yard off the floor is the penalty of the coward who thinks more about not missing the target than scoring.
With five great strikes to Franceís three Italy are the world champions and deservedly so. Having utilised nearly all of their squad and equalled a record by providing ten different goal scorers in the tournament it has been a real team effort. Marcello Lippi can now add the World Cup to his already impressive CV and the parties can begin all over the country. There could be some hangovers on Monday, and now the World Cup is over the players from Juventus, Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina will come down from the clouds and back to reality with the imminent verdict on the match-fixing scandal. Joy could quickly turn into despair and we should hope for the good of football that World Cup euphoria is not used as a mitigating circumstance in whatever justice is served.
For the French this will be a crushing defeat, but in all honesty they have played a poor tournament and would not have been a fondly remembered champion. Zidane was excellent against Spain and Brazil but all too often he was let down by those around him. Thierry Henry, so devastating for Arsenal, looked average for most of the tournament and, as is his wont, disappeared in the final and was substituted. It is sad to say that his contributions in diving against Spain and Portugal were as important as anything he achieved by staying on his feet and playing football. For Lilian Thuram, magnificent throughout and especially in the final, you can only have the utmost sympathy, but his excellence in defence was never matched by his team in attack. When Dommenech needed to change things from the bench to reinvigorate his team his best options were a pure penalty box player in Trezeguet to toil up front on his own and Sylvain Wiltord. A Euro for the thoughts of Ludovic Giuly and Robert Pires.
Twenty years ago I saw my first World Cup final and can remember the excitement in the room when Burruchaga raced away from Briegel, rolled the ball underneath Schumacher and secured a 3-2 win and the trophy for Argentina. I have now seen another five finals which have amassed only eight goals, a miserably low three of these conjured from open play. Where have the great forwards gone? In that Mexican summer I saw the likes of Maradona, Elkjaer, Butragueno, Careca and Lineker all scoring freely but twenty years on the goals have dried up. Miroslav Kloseís golden boot winning effort of five is the lowest for forty-four years and, despite his efforts, he hardly sets my pulse racing when heís in possession. Luca Toni, Wayne Rooney, Pauleta, Andriy Shevchenko and Thierry Henry were all left to fend for themselves, often isolated and with little support. Argentina probably had the best forwards, particularly waiting to come off the bench in Tevez and Messi. Brazil had the biggest, in reputation and also in waistline, but Ronaldo and Adriano looked disinterested throughout which, given the stage and the team they represented, was little short of scandalous.
With goals something of a rarity this meant a second World Cup in a row that failed to provide a truly great game that will live long in the memory. It is now eight years since Dennis Bergkamp settled a humdinger of a quarter-final in Marseille between Holland and Argentina and the World Cup has seen nothing comparable since. Again I think back to Mexico in 1986, and the likes of Belgium beating the USSR 4-3, or that epic quarter-final between Brazil and France. Nothing from Germany 2006 is fit to rank alongside them, and that is depressing.
The closest this World Cup got to a truly great game was the Italy-Germany semi-final that the Azzurri stole at the death through Grosso and Del Piero, but even that was a tactical chess match for long periods. The Italians were excellent that night and eliminated a German team that had been fun to watch, and who themselves eliminated the purest football team in the tournament, Argentina. What a shame that side of the draw was stacked with the best teams and forced them to eliminate one another.
So all eyes are now on South Africa for 2010 and lets hope that the arrival of the World Cup in Africa can somehow revitalise a tournament that started so promisingly in Germany but ultimately went stale towards the end. Congratulations to the Italian players, wherever some of them play their football next season they will do so as world champions, and in closing also a big thank you to Germany. Despite the stench of commercialism and corporate hospitality that is more FIFAís fault than theirs they have laid on an excellent tournament, itís just a shame that from June 24th onwards the football never really matched the opulence of the surroundings. Hope springs eternal though, and Iím already looking forward to a great competition in South Africa.
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